James Murrells at Cape Cleveland 1846-1863

On Wednesday, 25th February the barque “Peruvian”, a wooden ship of 304 tons, left Sydney on a voyage to China with a cargo of hardwood. The Peruvian carried a full complement of hands along with seven passengers, and was captained by George Pitkethly. Amongst the crew was one James Murrells (Morrill), an able seaman (photo below).


A week into the voyage they struck bad weather and several days later struck rocks at Minerva or Bellona Reefs, about 500 miles off the Queensland coast.  A rough raft was constructed and 21 survivors took their chances on the raft. After 42 days, and with only seven survivors, the raft came ashore on the south eastern side of Cape Cleveland, almost certainly on what is now referred to as “AIMS Beach”.

The privations for the survivors were extreme, but by the end of the second week on shore the remaining four castaways were adopted by the local Aboriginal tribes.  Within a year the sole survivor was James Murrells (Morrill), who lived with several tribes in the area for 17 years, until in the Cape Upstart area he was able to make contact with white men on an outstation.

Following his return to white civilization he was able to convey in some detail, information on the habits and foods etc. of local tribes. With a resurgence in interest in bush tucker, this page gives the local name, and where possible the current name of the plant, as well as comments on the practical way in which the food was used.

Perusal of the list shows that food plants were readily available in the general area, and were quite sufficient to support a considerable permanent population. When considered together with animal and marine food sources it can be seen that local tribes had little need to be nomadic, other than local movements to follow seasonal food sources.

On his return to civilization, Murrells had discussions with Rockhampton botanist, Anthelme Thozet, regarding the food plants favoured by the aboriginal tribes of Cape Cleveland. See notes from Thozet and other sources on bush tucker on this page.